Nightwatchman leads CD reviews
The Nightwatchman”One Man Revolution”(Epic)Rage Against the Machine lived up to its name, decrying various -isms – corporatism, cultural imperialism, capitalism – with virulent left-wing polemics in the form of crushing heavy metal songs.Guitarist Tom Morello engineered much of that noise, displaying stupefying virtuosity with thunderous riffs and skin-peeling solos. It was powerful stuff, but the once and future Rager (the band has reunited to play live dates this summer after years apart) has discovered an even more potent way to communicate: turning down the volume.Calling himself the Nightwatchman, Morello pours his revolution-minded worldview into bracing acoustic protest songs on what amounts to his solo debut. The Harvard-educated guitarist sings for the first time, spitting out strident, well-considered lyrics in a gritty baritone. He anoints himself on the title track, excoriates Bush-era foreign policy on “House Gone Up in Flames” and sounds almost Springsteenian in the quiet, melodic way he drawls out “No One Left” and punctuates it with harmonica.
Morello’s guitar playing here is mostly simple acoustic strumming, which will come as a shock to listeners steeped in his volcanic leads with Rage or the now-defunct Audioslave. This is agitprop the old-fashioned way, though, and an acoustic guitar and the truth were the only machines Woody Guthrie needed to vent his rage.- Eric R. Danton, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service Mavis Staples”We’ll Never Turn Back”(Anti-)The songs of “We’ll Never Turn Back” are so profoundly reflective of the American civil rights movement – and so intensely informed by the experiences of the performers – that it seems almost trivial to discuss the merits of the art itself. Fortunately, soul legend Mavis Staples has assembled an ensemble whose musicianship is unimpeachable.Staples and producer Ry Cooder have reproduced, re-imagined and responded to classic freedom songs from the 1950s and ’60s, evoking a persistent struggle for equality. While the overall arc is inspirational, the album takes an unflinchingly dark view of the civil rights struggle. The instrumentation is deliberately spare, practically lifted from the tin-can recordings of the early 20th century.
Staples’ raw anger bleeds through her vocals, tempered only by the humming of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and members of the original Freedom Singers. Many of the lyrics are improvised, giving Staples even greater license to scream, mourn and name-drop in the service of her message.In this way, Staples applies the fervor of gospel to the despair of spiritual music. Instead of bringing listeners closer to the glory of heaven, she has brought heaven back down to earth.- Jason Hammersla, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service Arctic Monkeys”Favourite Worst Nightmare”(Domino)The tumult of hype surrounding Arctic Monkeys last year had the odd effect of turning their excellent debut record into a sophomore slump as skeptics scoffed at the rapturous acclaim for “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.” They’re good, went this line of thinking, but not that good.
Arctic Monkeys are that good, though, and the band’s real sophomore album is proof enough. In fact, “Favourite Worst Nightmare” is better than the first record. It’s leaner, packed with taut, catchy songs played by a band that has grown even tighter as a musical unit, and singer Alex Turner’s droll, conversational lyrics are incisive and knowing.The barrage of hooks begins immediately on album opener “Brianstorm,” as galloping drums and churning guitars abruptly yield to bass and guitar sharing an angular, unison riff, while a second guitar adds scouring counterpoint.From there, it’s a mad dash to the end of the album. The band shouts through the chorus on “D is for Dangerous,” marches briskly through “Teddy Picker” and builds on a simple, dirty guitar riff on “Old Yellow Bricks.” Over a lilting backbeat on “Fluorescent Adolescent,” Turner, 21, pities former partiers who have grown boring as they’ve aged, singing, “You used to get it in your fishnets, now you only get it in your night dress.”He means the morning paper, right?The band slows down long enough to catch its breath on the melancholy, reverb-soaked “Only Ones Who Know” and longs for the comforts of home on the closing song “505,” but these departures from form only make the record that much more engaging.A second album as outstanding as this one is no nightmare; it’s a dream come true.- Eric R. Danton, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service